Perhaps he imagined, while mother woke the children and had them peek through a “crack in the door” at the white whiskered visitor stuffing their stockings full of presents, that he had tethered his prancing team of reindeer to a holly tree outside. Certainly there seemed to have been material for such imagination, for tradition said that the hill on which the first houses of the first settlement were built had at one time been richly adorned with a species of American Ilex, and even now there remained here and there carefully preserved remnants of that reported original wealth of the wilderness.
Whether or not this conjectural history of the settlement had anything to do with the cheerful mid-winter holiday developments of the community need not be argued at length. An argument would render the truth flat and insipid if it should prove to be in accord with poetic tradition. So what’s the use?
In mid-winter everybody just knew that Hollyhill as a child had been nursed in the snow trimmed evergreen lap of Christmas. Not that this municipality had a corner on mid-winter holiday generosity to the exclusion of all other communities. The chief outstanding fact in this relation was that the inhabitants, or those so fortunate as to be in a position to give and receive abundantly, believed Hollyhill to be the most generous Christmas town on earth, and there was nobody sufficiently interested to make a denial and follow it up with proof.
Much of the credit for this condition was due to the leading man of the place, Richard P. Stanlock, president and controlling power of the Hollyhill Coal Mining company, which owned a string of mines in the mountain district near the divisional line of two states. Besides being the leading citizen, Mr. Stanlock was the “biggest” man in town, because of the position to which he had risen, his ability to hold it, and the influence that went with it. What he said usually went, but his hand was not always evident. He liked to see things done, doubtless enjoyed the realization that his was the great moving power that produced results, but didn’t give a fig to have anybody else know it. To his intimate friends, who were few, and to the many with whom he would pass the time of day, he was as common in word and manner as the average householder with nothing more pretentious in life than the earning of his daily bread.
But in spite of all this simplicity and personal retirement Mr. Stanlock was a good deal of a mystery to many citizens who knew really little about him. Or perhaps he was a mystery to these fellow townsfolk because of his modest qualities. Knowing little about him, they imagined more. Leading citizens who knew his good qualities were ever ready with a word of praise for him. But the trouble was, the needed tangible evidence of his broad philanthropy was utterly lacking. Seldom was there a visible connecting link between him and a good deed. And so the praise of his work in pulpit, press and other public and semi-public places fell as platitudes before a considerable number of skeptics, whose favorite reply to this sort of thing was something like—